Unmistakably and in so many ways, Iain Borden thinks that skateboarding is RAD! This sentiment comes through in nearly every one of his 267 pages on the subject, a sort of tribute to the urban arts of skateboarding. This is scholarship as panegyric ... but don't get me wrong, I'm largely with Borden in his readings and estimation of the radical nature and content and potential of skateboarding: it's RAD!
In this monograph, Borden's archive is largely skateboarding magazines. He talks some about zines and almost none about films, and the way he reads mags is simply (and a bit disappointingly) to quote from the alphabetic portions of those texts. This is not to say that this book is not replete with images, because it is -- photos, magazine pages, more photos, including even one of Borden in a pool at a skate park! love that moment in the text -- it's just that Borden is not a discourse analyst, so he doesn't break down and close read in the ways I might have wanted him too. But dude, he sure is an architectural theorist, and so what this book is is Borden dumping piles and piles of Lefebvre onto skateboarding in order to redefine architecture and make sophisticated sense of what might otherwise be considered a "mere" hobby.
That's right: Borden more or less erects a massive half pipe of Lefebvre's work on space and the city, rhythmanalysis, bodies, and the modern city, and then skates skateboarding and the spaces/landscapes that skateboarding takes place and shape in and around in RIGHT THROUGH that theoretical halfpipe. It makes for a yummy ride, if a bit of a repetetive one -- back and forth we go for all of those 267 pages largely riding on the simulacral wave that is the half pipe made out of Lefebvre. But since I dig Lefebvre, I was into the book.
Okay, but this is what Borden SAYS in this book, and what he claims, and what he ardently works to prove. He's mainly trying to say (aside from the statement that "Skateboarding is RAD!" which comes through on every page of this book, even though it is never expressly said) is that
*** get this *** Architecture is not buildings, and objects in our cities and lives are not texts, but that architecture is a sort of result of interactions of bodies in space. So the skater in the halfpipe makes something in excess of the pipe when he (and it usually is a he, Borden concedes; hot skater dudes populate this text while skate-grrls are few) goes for an arial, or does something unexpected with his body-board continuum. Skateboarding is just one way, and a very specific one, that space in the city is made and remade and created out of interactions of the skating kind.
Okay, so that seems to be his main idea, as I repeat it with flaws of all kinds, no doubt. He begins with chapters on wheels and boards, then moves to the skateparks (less interesting) and the urban appropriation of space/architecture by rampaging skater dudes (more interesting). This is where skating is radical, unlawful, wild ... RAD! Borden does a few other funny things: like saying skating is the parole to the lange of the boring everyday, or something like that. He's all theory-crazed, looking for any way he possibly can to see skateboarding as RAD! And he does. And it works.
I guess the main limitation of this book for me, and there were few, is the lack of critique. Borden doesn't see skateboarding as being nearly as commodified and caught up on "what's cool" and even a sort of coopted critique and radicalism as I see it to be. I think it's RAD, I guess, but in ways I wished he would have explored the commodification of it more, the rage and anger and ways that skating is perhaps misplaced and thus safe aggression and critique. I wanted it to be read not so much as RAD, but as a patterning with more facets, at least a few of them LAME. Without, it becomes some kind of cure-all activity, beyond human.